A while ago, John Scalzi had a post on his blog about what he terms “the flying snowman.” The post and comments there are worth reading, but basically, it’s the question of when an element in a work of speculative fiction suddenly makes the reader snap out of it and say, “That’s ridiculous! That couldn’t happen!” In other words, where the suspension of disbelief stops working.
This got me thinking about whether the “flying snowman” is different when writing for children or teens than for adults. (Putting aside for a moment the fact that plenty of adults read YA and MG fantasy.) Can you get away with more? Less? With suspension of disbelief in different areas? Or is it really all the same?
I think that when it comes to facts, you can probably stretch them farther in YA/MG than in adult fantasy. I would guess that there are not as many teens as adults who are familiar with, say, the exact composition of lava and how someone might or might not sink into it, or what type of technology existed during a specific historical era. Most of us would like to be rigorous about such things for our own sakes, but if you decide to depart from rigor for the sake of the story and engage in some handwavium, you perhaps have more leeway than you would in an adult work.
When it comes to characters, on the other hand - in particular, young characters - I think YA and MG readers are going to be more rigorous. I believe that as a general rule, your characters’ actions and motivations have to be realistic no matter what type of world you’ve placed them in. And especially when writing for younger readers, your child/teen characters have to act like children and/or teens, not like shorter adults with a more limited vocabulary.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? And do you think there are other areas where suspension of disbelief work differently for younger readers than for older ones?